Archive for November, 2008

You might have a sports coach, but what about a CFO coach?

November 19th, 2008 Comments off

With such a high level of uncertainty in the job markets I’m always keen to see what additional efforts I can take to sharpen my skillset, add more value to my current company, or expand my network. I learned a very hard lesson after my position was eliminated last year and found myself at a virtual ground zero with regards to contact data, my networking abilities, & the resources to conduct an effective job search. I discovered had to make new connections quick , and through these contacts, discovered new tools such as LinkedIn, Financial Executives International (FEI), and Financial Executives Networking Group (FENG). I also created this blog in Q1-08. It’s been a challenging year but I look back and I’m very pleased with the progress I have made.

Lately, I have been watching the Twitter postings and reading the blog entries of Cindy Kraft, who is more commonly known as the CFO Coach to her followers. I had a call with Cindy yesterday to discuss her services and what a client could expect from her should the decision be made to pursue a program. As I expected, and Cindy confirmed, we are not talking about a 4-week or 8-week program, but a longer term initiative that would be developed by both client and coach. Her approach is one of collaboration where the goals are continually reviewed and adjusted to accommodate any change in dynamics.

I spoke with Cindy about what the average candidate profile is and she mentioned that the average client is currently employed and they are looking to increase their professional skillset, both in and out of the office. She also mentioned that client engagements can range between an hourly rate and a monthly rate. With regards to her monthly rate, the expectation is that there is a weekly call that happens to ensure progress is being made on existing issues and to see if there are any new topics that need to be tabled and incorporated within the longer term plan.

For a group that is typically numbers-centric and not so high on the interpersonal skills, Cindy is one of those folks that can turn into a CFO’s best friend. When it comes to refining skillsets that will be used daily in the office, it’s a small price to pay to avoid morale issues or negative circumstance resulting from a situation that can easily be changed. For myself, it’s one of those steps that I’m strategizing to make sure that when I start I can capture the expected value and make the long-term commitment.

Thanks for reading . . . .

Jeffrey Ishmael

Are you ready to take on a Micro-Cap company?

November 18th, 2008 Comments off

Over the course of the last year, primarily due to the economy, I have had to build a more comprehensive network and have become incredibly appreciative of this network and the sharing of knowledge. One of the recent discussion threads has been the challenges of moving from a larger corporation to a smaller one. I have been especially keen on this topic since my most recent engagement has me going to one of the smaller companies I have been with. Although I had worked for a $30 million (revenue) company, it was not in the capacity of leading the Finance department and working as an integral part of the decision-making team.

My most recent experience over the last decade has had me in companies ranging in size from $100 million to multi-billion. Most recently leading the North American effort for a $900 million company, which was part of a $10 billion entity. Needless to say, the resources are virtually limitless in this type of environment, whether it be headcount needs or financial needs for projects or capital expenditures. While I still tended to manage the Finance department in a VERY hands-on capacity and knew the details behind virtually every financial figure, I still had a solid staff that made the close happen each month, was available to investigate anomalies I believed needed attention, or pursued projects that would provide sustainable long-term benefits. Basically, so long as I could justify the expenditure, almost regardless of size, the resources would be made available.

Let’s fast forward to the considerations for taking on the task of leading the Finance effort in a Micro-Cap…or SUPER Micro-Cap. This is the point where you really need to start doing some honest Q&A with yourself.
1. Is my skillset strong enough that I can honestly take on a significant hands on role in this Finance department? You need to honestly ask if you’re capable/willing to get into the nitty gritty for all transactions, perhaps even entering your own journal entries.

2. Do I have a strong enough Operations background to be creative in my ability to identify savings opportunities for the company? Your ability to impact the organization is not going to come from restructuring bank relationships, implementing new systems for improved efficiencies, or other major projects, but from partnering with all functional areas to understand the nuts & bolts of the business. Besides, you may not have the resources available for your typical savings initiatives.

3. Do you have the personality that will allow you to work with every level of staffing within the company? Your efforts are not going to be confined to the “C-Suite”. You’ll need to be working with, and get to know, every employee within the company. You need to have the ability to communicate the financial goals of the company to every employee level.

4. So long as you’re not compromising reporting integrity, do you have the ability to be flexible and recognize that there are more shades of grey than the typical company? Things are not going to be so black & white moving to a smaller entity. There’s likely to be a high degree of restructuring, and not in a negative sense, but in a conformation sense. You’ve got to understand that the changes take time and you can’t go in with a “shock therapy” approach.

I absolutely appreciate being in a smaller company and the ability to be hands on in every aspect of the company. That when all is said and done after my introduction period, that I will have an intimate knowledge of the company and what makes it roll. That I’ll be able to see the delicate balance that it operates on and the intangibles of the culture behind it. Although there are certain accounting rules that must be adhered to, the shades of grey is what makes things interesting. Moving to a small company is not for the faint of heart and you need to be honest in your assessment of your personal capabilities and what you can offer the organization.

Thanks for reading. . . .

Jeffrey Ishmael

Advising the next generation of Finance staffers….???

November 15th, 2008 Comments off

Recently I was asked to participate in an “Advisory Committee” to discuss the Accounting & Finance curriculum at a local junior college. I had never considered this element of involvement or volunteerism in my work, so I eagerly accepted the invitation. Prior to the meeting I was not completely void of any prior student interaction as I had always hosted groups of interns during scholastic breaks. I always hosted a team and had them doing very hands on work.

For the “Advisory Committee”, I found that they were interested in reviewing the current curriculum and getting recommendations for how the program should be structured for the future. So with that goal in mind, why was +/- 30% of the attendees current staff and another +/- 30% current students or tutors? Is this 60% of the “Committee” really going to shape the future of the program? Off on the wrong foot already. Since the meeting had been called by the Dean of the Business program I would think that he, along with some mediation support, could easily facilitate the meeting. Especially when we are talking about developing a JC-level curriculum.

The productivity of the meeting just continued to go downhill. There was one “local businessman” in the group who seemed to be extremely vocal about what elements the program should have. Here’s a brief summary of the meeting…..
1. The “Committee” determined that adding Quickbooks to the curriculum was “essential”. Really? How about a class that gives an overview of all the key software platforms that are used in Corporate America….SAP, Hyperion, Oracle, MAS, etc.
2. When looking to identify text chapters to eliminate since the count was too high, I suggested they eliminate the chapter covering Bonds. Unless you’re looking to go into Municipal finance or larger corporate treasury functions, it’sreally not a necessary chapter for your target group. But no…”it’s absolutely necessary because it covers NPV…”. How about a lesson that covers all the financial ratios and the manner in which they are applied?
3. The text also had 5 of 27 chapters tied to costing. How about consolidating and offering an extended lesson that covers all the different costing methods, along with a few case studies. After all, this is Southern California & the manufacturing environment is eroding. “No, these chapters are essential to a students understanding of cost accounting”. Last time I checked, there were specific classes also offered for this topic.
4. The committee was supposed to be discussing the topic of how to better market the program. That part of the discussion was literally 3-4 minutes. Again, this was supposed to be shaped by the 60% that represented “insiders”?

So, in the end, this became more of a poorly planned focus group rather than the “Advisory Committee” it was marketed as. What was interesting is that the staff really didn’t seem open to change, was not interested in educating students on the “soft skills” necessary in a finance department, or helping to create a larger awareness for understanding the story behind or cause for the numbers. Basically, a program that will just generate a bunch of “crunchers”…..

Thanks for reading . . . .

Jeffrey Ishmael